It’s expected that the most commonly practiced dating behaviors will change to varying degrees from country to culture and culture to culture. As with anywhere, understanding the basics of Japanese cultural norms and social cues is essential to successfully dating there.
The traditions and customs of dating in Japan can sometimes surprise foreigners, as they can differ greatly from those held by some other cultures, like in the US and Europe. Of course, these norms will likely be familiar to those who’ve grown up here or had extensive experience with dating in Japan.
If you’re planning to travel to this captivating country, these romance particularities should be considered in order to tactfully conduct yourself among Japanese people. Especially if you foresee ever dating a Japanese individual, it will be indescribably valuable to have an essential awareness of the courtship etiquette and general expectations customary to the country’s deeply held, long-standing culture.
Here are some of the standout features of dating in Japan.
A Formal Declaration of Intent
The common practice of delivering a somewhat formal confession of romantic feelings is a significant distinction among the customary dating behaviors in Japan. This confession is made to establish the mutual desire to become a couple.
This is significant because, in Japanese culture, friends will frequently have one-on-one lunch or tea with no romantic connotation involved whatsoever. So, to date someone, it’s necessary to say that’s what you want and for them to clearly accept.
There is a word in Japanese for this confessional conversation surrounding the intention to begin officially dating: kokuhaku. Again, it’s meant to intentionally distinguish a couple of platonic friends from two romantically interested parties who mutually wish to take things to the next level by beginning to formally date.
Kokuhaku can be frequently observed in Japanese pop culture, such as in anime, where a popular scene depicts a man confessing to the object of his desire that he wants to date her, and if she accepts, they begin dating.
Compared to the norms of Western dating, where ambiguity often surrounds the official start date of a relationship, this practice can seem strange, even uncomfortable. However, for Japanese people, it may be expected.
The Value of Equity
Did you know it’s not unusual for Japanese couples to go Dutch? Don’t be shocked if you’re ever dating in Japan and the other party wants to split the bill evenly. Equality is very important in Japanese culture, and this should not be taken as a rude or cheap gesture.
In addition, the carrying of items may be expected to be divided in a fair manner between Japanese couples. This practice may seem odd to foreigners who are accustomed to men carrying more of the physical load as an act of chivalry.
Again, splitting the bill isn’t a sign of disrespect in Japan – quite the contrary. Instead, it can serve as an indicator that a person is prepared to share with someone with whom they have become close. Sharing the bill can be a sign of seriousness in the relationship.
One exception might be for special occasions, such as an anniversary, birthday, or holiday, when one person may wish to treat the other.
Longer Date Duration
Going on a date with a Japanese person is usually a more extended experience than in some Western cultures. Instead of spending a few pleasant hours together over drinks or simply going to dinner, a Japanese date traditionally entails a more significant time commitment.
A Japanese date can last from a half to a full day or even include a small getaway when schedules and budgets allow. These extended dates can be filled with various engaging activities, like shopping, or visiting a theme park or aquarium, in addition to patronizing restaurants or cafes for meals and drinks. Especially on weekends, Japanese dates are normally much longer affairs than in some countries.
Longer, adventurous dates can be helpful for Japanese couples toward the beginning of a relationship, as taking part in each activity can help break the ice. This is especially useful when daters are naturally shy, which tends to be common in Japan.
Restaurants or cafes are often involved at some point during dates in Japan. Other favored dating activities include hikes, picnics, drives, beaches, day trips, parks or zoos, the cinema, and even staying home.
Knowing how much to spend can be tricky in any dating culture, but according to surveys, 3,000-5,000 yen is an appropriate budget for an average date.
A Nice Night In
Homebodies, rejoice! Because it can be more practical for getting to know one another, Japanese dates frequently take place in one party’s home. This can even take place very early in dating. Home environments are less chaotic, and going out can be highly inconvenient.
In Western relationships, couples often opt to spend their days off from work on an adventure or with friends. In Japan, however, a day off at home together is a more popular option. A stay-at-home date can include meals, games, and conversations to build a closer bond.
It definitely does not suggest a “Netflix and chill” situation because you’re staying in. Casual hookups are highly taboo in Japan, so it’s very important not to confuse such an invitation for an implication of physical intimacy. Doing so may ultimately offend your date.
Don’t Say It, Show It
While the confession aspect of dating in Japan and the exclusivity that follows might make it seem like all romantic situations are direct, that’s actually not the case. For example, voicing one’s love for another is not a common practice in Japan. It’s more common to let someone know you care by showing them in small ways, such as with acts of service.
In Japan, telling someone, you love them might only be directly said during momentous romantic occasions, like weddings, marriage proposals, and anniversaries. Due to the prevalence of shyness in Japan, it can even be uncomfortable to say “I love you” outright. It’s also safest to avoid grand, attention-drawing gestures, which could cause unwanted embarrassment.
That’s not to say Japanese people don’t appreciate it when their partner lets them know they care. They enjoy it very much but simply prefer these gestures to be performed in more subtle, unspoken ways. Affection can be expressed by helping your partner, showing them gratitude or appreciation, or checking in on their well-being.
Everyone is different to some degree, and some people dating in Japan will send frequent messages to let the person they’re dating know they’re thinking of them. On the other hand, it’s not unheard of for some time to pass between the messages and replies of couples dating in Japan. It’s also relatively common for one party to text the other first in order to gauge their potential availability before attempting to call them.
Again, verbally professing your love for one another is not a common dating practice in Japan. If you’re demonstrating how you feel about each other through actions, that is typically enough.
The Importance of Privacy and Avoiding PDA
In Japanese culture, public affection displays are nonexistent and very frowned upon. Couples tend to refrain from kissing and hugging outside of private spaces for a couple of reasons, not the least because Japanese people place great value on privacy and modesty. As such, PDA is generally off-limits to avoid potentially offending passersby or onlookers.
Within the relatively conservative culture of Japan, kissing in public can be considered vulgar and should definitely be avoided. Waist-holding in public is not recommended, as it, too, could easily make others uncomfortable.
Even hand-holding has the potential to offend in smaller regions, but it is usually considered acceptable in more populated areas such as urban centers.
A Very Serious Goal in Mind
Western couples usually don’t broach the topic of marriage until the relationship is well underway. However, in Japan, it’s typically known from early on that if a couple is going to date, getting married is the ultimate goal. There generally is no mystery about this among Japanese people.
For many Japanese adults, especially women, the idea of dating with no real intention of an eventual marriage can actually be seen as a waste of time. Especially once people reach their mid-twenties, romantic endeavors tend to be pursued primarily for this purpose.
The Implications of a Certain Family Introduction
Couples from other nations might casually approach the subject of introducing their significant other to their parents, but this is not the case in Japan. Like many Asian cultures, Japanese people tend to place a substantial emphasis on family, so it’s crucial to gain the blessing of your partner’s parents when the time comes to meet them.
Japanese couples usually reserve this specific introduction for when things have evolved to the level of seriousness such that all parties will share an unspoken understanding that marriage is a strong possibility. (Speaking of which, weddings in Japan are full of unique customs all on their own.)
Meeting the parents is a big sign of commitment, so don’t be hurt if this step takes a little longer than you’re used to if you’re new to dating in Japan. Whenever it does happen, it will be a significant milestone. You will probably also be expected to bring an etiquette-appropriate gift, use the proper greetings, and exhibit the customary signs of respect.
While the affair isn’t always especially formal in modern times, you should never discount the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the parents. Making an effort and consistently showing respect for their culture goes a long way toward making a positive lasting impression, the value of which cannot be overstated.
Traditionally, the parents’ care may well fall into your and your future spouse’s hands in the distant future, so a positive bond is vital.
Making a good impression on your Japanese partner’s family can sometimes make or break a dating relationship. It may help to ask your Japanese partner for guidance on their expectations as well as their parents’ expectations, such as how to address them appropriately.
No, we’re not talking about insults; rather, knowing what to call one another. When dating in Japan, everyday interactions like addressing each other can be a little different than in many other countries, where you might simply refer to them by their first names.
This is not the case in Japan, where using first names is considered highly personal and is usually reserved only for close friends and family.
Because addressing one another casually by using only first names is not a common practice in Japan, it’s recommended to instead use the appropriate suffix attached to the person’s last name, such as: -san.
When dating in Japan, it’s generally not safe to assume that it’s fine to call someone by their first name – or to use any other endearments to address them, for that matter.
Pet names are only accepted once a certain level of intimacy has been reached, or potentially never in some circumstances. It’s always best to check in with the person you’re dating directly for clarity on their comfort level, just in case.
While living together before marriage is increasingly popular for those dating in Japan, it’s long been the common tradition to refrain from doing so. Now, it’s becoming more normal for younger couples to split the difference between the two scenarios by cohabitating part-time. This means sharing a duration of time together, such as days at a time, without formally living together.
Whether living together full-time or not, personal alone time typically remains a universal priority, so it’s unusual for dating Japanese couples to spend every waking moment together.
In fact, according to studies, most couples who don’t live together meet physically just once a week, though they are in contact an average of 10 times daily via calls or texts.
A Twist on Valentine’s Day
On February 14, the custom in Japan is for a Japanese woman to give chocolates or a small gift to their spouse. Additionally, there are several different types of chocolate for women to give to close friends, family, and even themselves.
Meanwhile, Japanese men traditionally offer a pleasant or sweet surprise to their significant others in return on March 14, which is dubbed White Day. Although they are separate days, both holidays often feature chocolates and other sweets like cakes and sometimes small objects as gifts. The price and quality of these treats and gifts can sometimes indicate the seriousness of the relationship, especially when they are reciprocal gifts being given on White Day.
A similar role reversal to this can also be seen with the not-so-uncommon practice of Japanese women being the ones to initiate the first date. This is a stark contrast to some other cultures’ widespread expectation that a Japanese man should generally be the one to make the first move in terms of extending a date invitation.
Christmas Eve Romance
While some cultures traditionally celebrate Christmas gatherings or gift exchanges with their families on Christmas Eve, in Japan, this day is usually more associated with romance and couples. By contrast, New Year’s celebrations are usually more family-centric than Christmas in Japanese culture.
Viewed by many as one of the most romantic days of the year, couples usually exchange Christmas gifts and share a nice romantic dinner on Christmas Eve. Given the average extended length of romantic dates in Japan, especially if a Christmas date happens to fall on a weekend, it can be expected that this outing will last at least half the day.
How to Meet Single Japanese
Japanese people can meet singles and potential partners in several different ways, such as through services and arranged gatherings, like konkatsu events or goukon nights.
Konkatsu parties are professionally organized get-togethers in Japan that are specifically designed to help singles connect with one another with the ultimate goal of finding a spouse. Konkatsu parties can be helpful for finding potential partners who are similar in age or who fit specific desires in terms of background or occupation. They can be set up like speed dating or designed more for mingling.
Goukon events are another type of slightly more casual gathering where people can meet for a drink or other activity. Friends often arrange these outings, essentially group dates designed to help singles meet new people.
Goukon can come in the form of karaoke or a meal and is considered a reasonably safe way to meet dating prospects in Japan. At this stage, kissing someone would be very premature. This step would typically come after kokuhaku.
Similar to other cultures, couples often meet at school or at work. Online dating sites and dating apps are sometimes used, but it’s considerably less popular in Japan than it is in other parts of the world. Additionally, professional matchmaking services are gaining popularity.
Another Japanese matchmaking tradition worth noting is a practice called omiai, in which a meeting is arranged to assess potential compatibility for becoming spouses.
This formal “marriage interview” is typically set up by an intermediary, traditionally their parents, although this is becoming less common. Omiai is a practice that dates back centuries but has understandably evolved over time.
Unions at An Older Age
Many Japanese adults are opting to forego marriage until later in life, resulting in reduced childbirth rates. Unlike past generations, it’s become increasingly popular to put off marriage until after educational or career goals have been met, which can sometimes result in a reduced ability to conceive when they decide they’re ready to become parents.
Advice for Dating in Japan
Here are a few practical tips and expected behaviors that shouldn’t be ignored if you ever intend to date in Japan.
- Always be punctual, respectful, and plan ahead; Japanese people do not appreciate wasting time.
- Consider utilizing professional services or attending singles events to zero in on the best matches for you.
- Once you’re dating someone, show affection with your actions rather than relying on expressing it verbally.
- Acknowledge the importance of addressing the topic of dating exclusively, and recognize that Japanese adults typically date with the serious intention of getting married.
- Avoid publicly displaying your affection, as it’s considered respectful to reserve more intimate acts than hand-holding for more private moments.
- Express a genuine interest in the other person’s own individual beliefs and values, in addition to their cultural and familial norms.
- Make an effort to become aware of the expected etiquette and appropriate table manners, such as when to bow, who should pour whose drinks, and the proper positions for sitting on the floor at a lowered table.
In Conclusion about Dating Japanese Women and Men in Japan
For many, the dating customs held in Japan can be viewed as somewhat conservative. Would-be couples require a formal verbalized request to begin dating, and casual romantic relationships are generally less common there. Instead, people are more likely to date with the explicit intention of getting married, with a gradual but serious progression.
These aspects of dating in Japan may seem different, but it’s likely they will hold strong significance for Japanese people. While understanding the distinct features of dating in Japan can appear challenging, the payoff has the potential to be immeasurably helpful in avoiding acts that may be seen as off-putting or rude by Japanese standards.
Above all, communication is vital in any healthy relationship. For those who are inexperienced in the Japanese dating culture or who find themselves discovering the details first-hand, you never know for sure until you ask.
Although some dating preferences will indeed stem from a person’s cultural background and unique customs, don’t overlook the fact that a number of distinctions are sure to be based on an individual’s personal preferences. The safest bet is not to make assumptions and to educate yourself so you can proceed with the most respectful practices while dating in Japan.
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